Brow Beat

Who Is Borat’s Co-Star in His New Sequel?

Updated: The woman once credited as “Irina Nowak” is actually Maria Bakalova, but who is Maria Bakalova?

Borat wears his signature grey suit and mustache. His daughter is dressed in a suitbag and barely visible.
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his daughter (“Irina Nowak”) in the trailer for the Kazakh filmmaker’s “subsequent moviefilm.” Still from the trailer

The trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s long-awaited sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released by Amazon this morning, and the biggest question it leaves is: Who’s that playing Borat’s daughter?

The trailer has no credits, and there’s no Internet Movie Database page for the film, but Amazon’s press release says that the movie, to be released on Oct. 23 on Amazon Prime Video, is “starring Sacha Baron Cohen & Irina Nowak,” which would seem to be that. (They don’t identify which role either is playing, but the trailer sure makes those look like the only leads.)

But wait! Who is Irina Nowak? The internet is surprisingly little help on this point. There’s no Irina Nowak on IMDb, and the closest search return is an actress named Irina Novak, who’s 39—far too old, assuming there’s no Irishman-type de-aging budget involved. Baron Cohen used relative unknowns as his castmates in the first Borat, including character actor Ken Davitian as Azamat Bagatov and comedian Luenell Campbell as the sex worker whom Borat eventually marries, but even the latter had a previous bit part in Nash Bridges on her CV. Irina Nowak, as far as the world wide web is concerned, basically doesn’t exist. There’s not even an Instagram account, which for an aspiring actor in 2020 might as well mean you live on the moon.

Maybe Baron Cohen just did an extensive search for a true discovery. Or there’s another possibility, although it’s admittedly an outside one. A few outlets, including the Evening Standard and Uproxx, have reported that the role is actually being played by a Bulgarian actress named Maria Bakalova. (Publicists for the movie did not respond to a request for clarification.) The source of that information appears to be an obscure website and YouTube channel called the Illuminerdi, which posted an article and an accompanying video Wednesday in which they claimed, “The Illuminerdi has learned that relative unknown Maria Bakalova will star opposite Baron Cohen as Borat’s daughter.” They didn’t specify their source, and strangely, when the article was posted to Reddit, it was removed by the moderators. But! Take a look at what happens when you put a still of Bakalova from the 2018 movie Transgression up against a still of Borat’s daughter.

Both actresses look similar, with long brown hair, large brown eyes, a slender build
Left: Maria Bakalova in Transgression. Right: Borat’s daughter (Bakalova?) in the trailer for the Borat sequel. Illustration by Slate. Screengrabs from the trailers for Transgression and the Borat sequel.

Could that be the same person? To my eyes, the chin says no, but the eyes and the nose say … maybe? Bakalova at least does seem to exist—here’s her IMDb page, listing roles in both a few Bulgarian features and the Italian TV series Gomorra—which is a point in her favor. And given that Baron Cohen likes to maintain an air of mystery around his films, it could make sense to wrong-foot sleuths looking to figure out what the sequel’s about before it’s shown. Baron Cohen already gave the Writers Guild a title that turned out to be wrong, registering his script under the name Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan. Why not fake out the Screen Actors Guild as well?

Update, Oct. 21, 2020: The credits of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm confirm that Maria Bakalova plays Borat’s daughter. “Irina Nowak” is nowhere to be found.